Wiccan Ritual Structure Explained
There is no big secret concerning the structure of Wiccan ritual. There are certain points that must be observed or the ritual is no longer considered a Wiccan ritual. But, because Wicca is such a personal religion, there is much room for change and personal interpretation.
The first of the basic components of Wiccan ritual is the purification of self. This step is performed to purify the body, mind and spirit in order to become ready for Wiccan ritual. Although it is necessary to purify yourself, the way in which you do it is up to you. It is traditional to take a ritual bath prior to Wiccan ritual in order to purify the body but this is not a necessity.
There are many other actions that you may take to achieve this purification prior to Wiccan ritual. You could use visualization to cleanse the body and mind of negativity, anoint the body with ritual oil or any other number of activities. The importance of purification is to free us of as much negativity as possible physically, mentally and spiritually.
After the purification of self, comes the purification of the sacred space. The sacred space is the area in which the Wiccan ritual will be performed. If you are performing the Wiccan ritual outside, you probably won't have much work to do. However, an indoor Wiccan ritual will always need purification. Indoor areas tend to accumulate negativity and other energies that should be cleared away prior to Wiccan ritual.
There are many ways you can achieve the purification of sacred space prior to Wiccan ritual. The besom is a Wiccan ritual tool used to clear the space of negative energies and this is done by ritually sweeping the area. The bristles of the broom do not touch the floor but visualization is used to "see" negative energies being brushed away. Other ways to purify the Wiccan ritual area include the scattering of salt, purifying herbs and/or water around the sacred space. In my personal Wiccan ritual, I first sweep the area with the besom then scatter salt and water around the circle, carry the incense around the circle and finally a candle. In this way, I purify the area with the help of all the elements. Other Wiccan practitioners may play instruments to cleanse the area or fumigate the space with incense. Perform this step in whichever way feels right to you.
After the purification of self and space comes the creation of sacred space. This part of the Wiccan ritual structure consists of setting up the altar, casting the Wiccan magic circle and calling the elemental quarters. There are many different ways to setup an altar, cast a magic circle and call the quarters. The details of these actions are discussed in length in many books, websites and articles. You must find what works best for you.
After you have created your sacred space by casting the circle and calling the quarters, next you must perform the invocations. This is a very important part of Wiccan ritual structure. An invocation is a spoken prayer, an invitation of sorts to the God and Goddess. You can write your own invocations or use one of the many beautiful published invocations of the God and Goddess. The purpose of the invocation in Wiccan ritual is to contact the God and Goddess, open yourself to them and invite them to attend your ritual. Many Wiccan practitioners prefer to speak from the heart during invocation as this is the most sincere form of invitation and is sure to connect with the deities. Still others will memorize a written prayer specific to the deity, Wiccan ritual or season. The way in which you invoke the deities is up to you but it is without a doubt, the most necessary part of Wiccan ritual.
The next part of Wiccan ritual structure is the ritual observance. The Sabbats and Esbats are Wiccan ritual observances and would be performed at this stage in the Wiccan ritual. However, these holidays are not the only times in which Wiccan ritual may be performed. It could be that you wish to perform a magical or meditation rite and now is the time to get to the "meat" of the Wiccan ritual, so to speak.
After the Wiccan ritual observance comes the raising of energy. This is the magic of Wiccan ritual. The raising of energy is never mandatory but if you are planning on doing it, this is the time - following any Wiccan ritual observances. You could raise energy by drumming, dancing, chanting, singing or just plain visualization. The magic circle will retain the energy you have raised until you are ready to release it. If you were performing a spell then this part of the Wiccan ritual would be a necessity. Many Wiccans, including myself, prefer to practice magic only on the Esbats and leave the Sabbats for ritual observance only. However, it is not taboo to practice magic at the Sabbats if you need or wish to. This is a matter of preference and/or need. Either way, you may raise energy even if its just to send back to the earth when you are finished.
After raising energy during a Wiccan ritual, you will need to ground yourself. The traditional way to ground is to perform the simple feast, also known as "Cakes and Wine" or "Cakes and Ale". However, there are other ways of grounding. Visualization to rid you of excess energy is one way or you might just taste a bit of salt and then spread it around the circle. You could use tools to store the excess energy such as candles or even use your athame to absorb it. The choice is up to you and as long as this step is performed it matters little how it is performed.
The Wiccan ritual is now coming to a close and the next part of the Wiccan ritual structure is to thank the deities for their presence. You may also want to save a bit of the simple feast as a libation to them. Then, thank the God and Goddess using words from your heart or memorized words as best suits you. Thank them for their attention and ask them to come again if they wish. Never boss them around or "dismiss" them. It should be perceived as an honor that the God and Goddess join you for your Wiccan ritual and so they should be honored.
The last step in Wiccan ritual structure is the opening of the circle. The method you use here is dependant upon your circle casting. You may cut the circle with your athame or wand, take up the physical boundary markings, etc. Usually when you are using a certain method to cast the Wiccan magic circle, there will be instructions on opening it. If you are making your own circle casting and opening method, make sure you disperse the energy of the circle, thank the rulers of the quarters for their attention and then clear any physical evidence of the circle such as stones, herbs, cords, etc.